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BlackBerry Key2 LE review: Hands on with the cheaper keyboard warrior

BlackBerry released a cheaper version of its keyboard-toting flagship at IFA 2018, but how does the Key2 LE stack up?

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Oh, BlackBerry. Your tiny IFA corner booth gradually shrinks every year. The once all-dominating smartphone maker still clings desperately to the past and, while its phones are generally rather well-received, they’re often a little too pricey for pure nostalgia.

In strides the BlackBerry Key2 LE – the Canadian firm’s response to those price criticisms. A cheaper version of its previously-released flagship, the Key2 LE retains the physical keyboard layout as before, albeit with a few tweaks to bring the cost down.

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BlackBerry Key2 LE review: UK price, specifications and release date

  • 4.5in 1,620 x 1,080 IPS display
  • Octa-core 1.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 626 processor
  • 4GB of RAM
  • 13-megapixel f/2.2 and 5-megapixel f/2.4 rear cameras
  • 8-megapixel front camera
  • 32GB or 64GB of storage, expandable up to 256GB via microSD
  • Android 98.1 Oreo
  • 3,000mAh battery
  • UK price: £349
  • UK release date: September 2018

BlackBerry Key2 LE review: Design, key features and first impressions

Considering it’s almost half the price of its flagship counterpart, the BlackBerry Key2 LE doesn’t look drastically different. Often, with cheaper variants of flagship phones, you can spot cost-cutting design differences from a mile off but, to the untrained eye, there’s very little to differentiate the two here.

Again, the phone is coated in a soft plastic on the rear, complete with subtly rounded corners and chamfered edges. This makes for a phone that not only looks unusual but is also grippier than most, and doesn’t have as much of a tendency to pick up scratches or fingerprints on the back.

Rest assured, the keyboard is back, too. If you couldn’t tell from my hands-on images, a physical keyboard is fitted below the screen, and it’s just as good as ever. Typing feels tactile and responsive and, despite the rather tiny keys, didn’t feel too cramped when writing a draft email.

The programmable “convenience key” makes a welcome return on the right edge of the Key2 LE. Press it, and the phone can launch all sorts of shortcuts, including your favourite apps, as well as switch the phone to silent mode. This button sits between a volume rocker and power button, while a USB Type-C charging port is flanked by a pair of speaker grilles at the bottom.

The 4.5in 1,620 x 1,080 IPS display, meanwhile, does feel decidedly old hat in 2018. To date, Blackberry still refuses to follow the 18:9 bezel-less trend we so commonly see at the moment, but this is a lovely screen nonetheless. It does the job whether you’re bashing out an email or catching up on the latest funny cat compilation on YouTube.

Elsewhere, the Key2 LE is powered by Qualcomm’s mid-range Snapdragon 636 processor, clocked at 1.8GHz, along with 4GB of RAM and a choice of either 32- or 64GB of storage, which can be expanded up to a further 256GB via microSD.

Performance was snappy enough during my brief time with the phone, and I expect the Key2 LE will be perfectly capable of handling even the most demanding of Android applications, especially if the similarly-equipped Asus Zenfone 5 is any indication.

Where the phone might not perform so well, though, is in photography. On the rear, you’ll find a 13-megapixel camera with a reasonably wide aperture of f/2.2, along with a secondary 5-megapixel f/2.4 lens. On the front, there’s an 8-megapixel selfie snapper.

While those specifications don’t sound too bad, especially at this price, some elements of the camera UI felt extremely sluggish on first impressions. Of course, you could boil these issues down to pre-release versions of the software, but this is an issue I will be investigating when I receive a handset for review.

BlackBerry Key2 LE review: Early verdict

Camera niggles aside, BlackBerry’s Key2 LE is shaping up to be a very interesting smartphone, and it’s certainly one to watch in the months that follow.

Finally addressing the biggest issue with its successors, the Key2 LE is generously equipped at its current price. The physical keyboard could be the deciding factor for many potential pundits, especially if they have fond memories of the usurped on-the-go email king.

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